The XX Factor

Literal Losers Are More Likely to Lash Out at Female Gamers

Poor performing male gamers often view female players as a threat.

Photo by Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

A newly released study shows what we were all thinking: Abusive and sexist gamers are losers. Literally.

“Insights into Sexism: Male Status and Performance Moderates Female-Directed Hostile and Amicable Behavior,” published last week in PLOS One, found that men who perform poorly in gaming are more likely to be rude and discriminatory toward their female counterparts.

The researchers, Michael Kasumovic of University of New South Wales and Jeffrey Kuznekoff of Miami University, found “that lower-skilled players were more hostile towards a female-voiced teammate, especially when performing poorly. … Higher-skilled players, in contrast, were more positive towards a female relative to a male teammate.”


During the study, the researchers observed 163 games of Halo 3, a game chosen because it relies on a multiplayer game with a team objective, it exists outside of a sexualized storyline, and it makes no reference to facial features or body types. Instead, the avatars are covered in armor.


Kasumovic and Kuznekoff came at this study from an evolutionary study perspective. Interested in what triggers sexist behavior, they root the cause in fear of hierarchical disruption and reorganization: “As men often rely on aggression to maintain their dominant social status, the increase in hostility towards a woman by lower-status males may be an attempt to disregard a female’s performance and suppress her disturbance on the hierarchy to retain their social rank.”


In Halo 3, the player status, which the researchers link to dominance, is on public display. Those “who stand to lose the most status” often compensate by attacking female players. And, as the study points out, this isn’t unlike the practice of “negging.” By bringing a female player down, losing male players believe they are raising themselves up and making themselves more dominant and attractive. This behavior could also be fueled by the anonymity of the game. Since players had pseudonyms, they spoke freely, with no fear of retribution.

Importantly, while the poorly performing men direct their wrath at female players, the study found that these men display submissive behavior with more skilled male players. They are more cordial with these players, likely because they don’t see losing to another man as so threatening.

Therein lies the possibility of at least one small cultural corrective. “By demonstrating that female-directed hostility primarily originates from low-status, poorer-performing males,” Kasumovic and Kuznekoff’s results “suggest that a way to counter it may be through teaching young males that losing to the opposite sex is not socially debilitating.” And that negging on women only makes men look like real losers.